A Naval nuclear engineer and his schoolteacher wife have again pleaded guilty to attempting to sell military secrets to a foreign country, weeks after a judge tossed their previous agreement with prosecutors for being too lenient.
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on Tuesday re-entered their pleas in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
The Maryland couple in January initially pleaded guilty to espionage charges as part of a deal that would have seen Jonathan sentenced to 12 years in prison while Diana would have served three. But U.S. District Judge Gina Groh last month rejected the deal, struck with prosecutors in August, deeming it “strikingly deficient” considering the seriousness of the case.
Now Jonathan, a civilian engineer for the Navy with a top-secret security clearance, and his 46 year-old wife face significantly harsher punishment. Under the latest plea agreement, the Toebbes are each facing a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $100,000 fine — but prosecutors are requesting Diana’s sentence fall on the lower end of the guideline range.
If the court doesn’t accept the latest agreement, the pair would again be given the right to withdraw their guilty pleas.
Jonathan Toebbe is accused of using his position within the Navy to sell government secrets about the nuclear propulsion systems on U.S. submarines. Diana meanwhile helped facilitate the sales by serving as lookout during a series of prearranged “dead-drop” locations in West Virginia, where they left memory cards containing the the classified information.
The information was often hidden inside objects like chewing gum wrappers and a peanut butter sandwich, according to court documents.
The couple’s scheme started to crumble before it ever took off, though. Intelligence officials from another nation almost immediately turned over to the F.B.I. a letter the Toebbes penned anonymously in 2020, offering to sell nuclear secrets. It immediately sparked an investigation aimed at uncovering the couple’s identities, both of who seemingly lived a normal life in Maryland prior to their arrests.
The Toebbes were eventually taken into custody after Jonathan passed military secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as an official from another country. His Diane later confessed to her role in the scheme.
With News Wire Services